Rôle -- whence the circumflex?

Lately, I’ve been stumbling over the spelling ‘rôle’ occasionally, in particular in technical documents. At first, I thought it was just some weird typo – maybe the circumflex is next to the r or o on some keyboard layouts, and thus is accidentally pressed before the o --, but looking to wikipedia, it lists rôle as an alternative spelling, but without any further clarification. So, what’s the deal? I can’t think of any other English word with a circumflex (I’ve probably never used that word this often in my life, it’s starting to look funny and loose its meaning… circumflex circumflex circumflex) – what does it signify? Was it just imported from French? Does it have any impact wrt pronunciation?

Role is a relatively late loanword from French. French loanwords from the 17th century and later tend to retain diacritical marks, maybe because printing (and hence standardized spellings) were widespread by that time.

Circumflexes in French denote long vowels; this one is surplus to requirements in English because of the E.

It’s also a great way to make you look smart (and/or pretentious, YMMV): much like adding the diacritic to coöperation.

In case you’re wondering, that diaeresis (the two dots over the second ‘o’) means the vowel is to be pronounced on its own, making the word co-operation as opposed to coop-eration. It serves the same role in ‘naïve’.

No. Long vowels are denoted by the acute accent (é).

The circumflex in French indicates that a letter has been left off the word, usually an s. Thus “hôtel” was originally “hostel.”

“Rôle” is an exception. It represents an earlier usage of the circumflex to represent what was originally “roule”; the circumflex indicates the sound changed from the early pronunciation of “ou” as a dipthong to a new pronunciation.

Thank you, RealityChuck. I was trying to rub some life into the brain lobe that’s responsible for half-forgotten foreign grammar, trying to make sense of the word “rosle”. Now I can sleep easily.

I stand corrected. :smack:

And because it does not modify the pronunciation of the letter itself, the diaresis is not a diacritic like ˇ, °, ´, ~, ^, `, or ¨.

Would that second one have the oo sounding like a single o or like the oo in Baloo? I’m trying to understand English phonics since they’re used so often here, but it’s difficult.

Except in Cambridge, where the Harvard Cooperative Society, abbreviated as The Coop, has no diacritical marks. In the long version of the name, it’s pronounced as “co-operative”, but in the short it’s pronounced as in “Chicken ___”, not as in “Agricultural Co-op”. Og knows why.

If I saw “coop-eration” I would pronounce the first syllable like “baloo” or “moon”. that’s why the hyphen or diaeresis are used in “co-operation” - this is one of the rare words in English where a double vowel is not pronounced as a single long vowel, but as two short vowels of the same sound. The diaeresis was used a fair bit in the late 70s and early 80s, if I recall correctly, by the Reader’s Digest - seemed they were trying to introduce it into English orthography. I think it’s fallen by the way-side.

Don’t know about the Reader’s Digest, but the New Yorker definitely uses it. (Or at least did; I haven’t read an issue in about 5 years or so. Still, I don’t expect them to have changed.)

Hm, I was under the impression that the diaeresis was in fact a diacritic. It tells you how to pronounce the vowel, right?

Wiki seems to agree: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diaeresis_(diacritic)

And yeah, I’m familiar with the purpose - the New Yorker was the place I remember seeing it.

This makes it sound like “ô” is pronounced the same as other "o"s. It isn’t; cote and côte are pronounced differently: /kɔt/ and /kot/ (similar to “cut” and “coat”) respectively. “a” and “â” are also different: crane /kʁan/ (present of craner) and crâne /kʁɑn/.

Î and û don’t indicate pronunciation differences. I’m having trouble finding a minimal pair for ê, but rêne and renne are pronounced differently in Quebec although the pronunciations have merged in France.

And here I didn’t use SAMPA because I thought a dumb dictionary respelling scheme would be more universal.

Haven’t you ever heard of ‘chicken coop’ or being ‘cooped up’ somewhere? That’s what I was trying to refer to. Yes, it is the vowel in ‘moon’ and ‘who’ and ‘boom’ and ‘lose’ or, in SAMPA, /u:/.

Yes, the diaeresis is a diacritic. Diacritics can show sound changes, indicate stress, disambiguate vowel sounds, etc. The ¨is a diacritic known by (at least) two different names, depending on the function. It’s either a diaeresis that indicates a vowel not be pronounced in a diphthong, or an umlaut, which changes the vowel sound.

Re “coöperation”, I do not recall seeing this done in any English language articles or books I have ever read. Where has this ever been done in articles I might access online?

Here’s one from the New Yorker.

And here’s one from last year with the word “coordinate.” Also from the New Yorker. As I said, the New Yorker is kind of well-known for using the diaeresis wherever it can.